NSTA Legislative Update: HEA, Budgets, and Taxes

House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Fox introduced a bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA) last week, and her committee will be meeting to mark up the bill on Tuesday, December 12.

H.R. 4508 (115), the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity though Education Reform (PROSPER) Act,” would change how students apply for federal aid for college, and streamline the information about colleges that the federal government would provide. Most notably for K-12 educators, the bill would make changes to teacher education by repealing HEA Title II, eliminating the  Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant program (currently funded at $43.1m), and eliminating the Title II data reporting.

The bill also ends the TEACH Grant program in July 2018.

Currently the bill has no Democratic cosponsors. A Democratic version of HEA reauthorization is expected out after the markup next week. Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has indicated that Senate legislation to reauthorize HEA will be a priority early in the New Year.

Read more about HEA here.

Budget Deal at Year’s End? New StopGap Measure Keeps Govt Open till Dec. 22

On Thursday, December 7, Congress passed another stopgap funding measure that will keep the government open until Dec. 22 in the hopes that leaders can agree to a budget deal by year’s end. The prior spending agreement was scheduled to expire on Dec. 8.

Leaders from both the Senate and House are meeting with President Trump to hammer out a final budget deal and overall spending levels, including the possibility of raising or eliminating the sequestration budget caps currently on many domestic programs.

NSTA joined education colleagues last week in a letter to senators asking them to “raise the sequester-level discretionary caps and ensure that any increases in the defense spending caps are matched with equal increases in the Non-Defense Discretionary (NDD) spending caps”  and to “make critical investments in education programs such as the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grant Program under Title IV-A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”

Issues such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and the final push to finish the tax plan (see below) are also in play during these budget negotiations.

The stopgap measure will provide funding for the federal government through Dec. 22, meaning that a pre-Christmas, close the government budget showdown is likely. Stay tuned.

What’s in the Tax Bill for Education?

Congressional negotiations continue over the two versions of the tax bill; here are the key differences in the House and Senate bills on education programs:

Deduction for school supplies: The House plan eliminates the provision that allows K-12 teachers to deduct up to $250 that they spend on their classes. The Senate bill would allow teachers to deduct up to $500.

Expanding 529s: Both the House and Senate plans would expand section 529 college savings accounts to cover K-12 expenses of up to $10,000 per year. The Senate plan would allow 529s to pay for children to attend public, private and religious K-12 schools, and cover the costs of home schooling. The House version does not include home schooling.

Taxing graduate students: The House plan calls for taxing as income tuition that is waived for graduate students working as teaching or research assistants. The Senate plan has no such tax.

Deduction for student loan interest: The House plan would scrap a deduction for student loan interest; the Senate version protects this deduction.

Taxing endowments: Both the House and Senate bills have language that would create new taxes on private colleges and university endowments.  The House plan would tax endowment incomes at schools that have $250,000 per student, which would affect approximately 60 to 70 colleges. The Senate plan would target half as many, setting the threshold at schools with $500,000 per student.

And finally, Change the Equation, which started in 2010 as a CEO-led effort to improve STEM education and was part of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, will cease operations at the end of the year.

The group announced last week that WestEd and Education Commission of the States will assume and continue two signature CTEq products:  WestEd will lead STEMworks, a nationally-recognized initiative to identify and scale the most effective STEM education programs; and Education Commission of the States will lead and expand Vital Signs, the state-by-state data on the condition of STEM education.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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